Airbus Defence and Space (DS) announced an improved variant of the A330-200 Multi-Role Tanker Transport (MRTT) aircraft during the annual Trade Media Briefing, held at the company's Getafe facility near Madrid on 10 June.
The improved aircraft, dubbed the A330 MRTT Enhanced, features a number of structural and system upgrades, both to the baseline commercial airliner and the fitted military equipment.
The A330 MRTT Enhanced will be based on the most recent commercial A330 variant. The aircraft, which is to be manufactured in Toulouse, features improvements to the aerodynamics, structure, and mission computer. In the latter case the Power-8 system will be fitted, which includes new displays and updated avionics.
Improvements to the military systems comprise a mission system upgrade; a mission planning system (MPS) upgrade; an improvement to the Aerial Refuelling Boom System (dubbed Boom Upgrade 3); a Boom Visual System upgrade; provisions for Identification Friend or Foe (IFF) Mode 5 and the Automatic Dependent Surveillance-Broadcast (ADS-B) tracking system. Airbus has said that the overall industrialisation process will also be improved.
Work on the prototype aircraft will begin in October 2015, with the first flight scheduled for the end of July 2016. According to Antonio Caramazana, VP Head of Military Derivative Programmes, the flight test campaign should encompass 75 sorties, each lasting four hours.
Starting from 2017, all future A330 MRTT customers will be offered this enhanced version, with retrofits being made available to current operators. Caramazana said that, based on the present order book, Singapore will be the first customer to receive the A330 MRTT Enhanced.
The major component of this improved package is the Boom Upgrade 3, which has been requested by the Royal Australian Air Force (RAAF) to improve control of the boom when tanking large aircraft.
"The Australians wanted better accuracy for refuelling large aircraft. The current control laws are more tuned to [smaller] F-16 type aircraft," explained Caramazana. As this particular upgrade has been requested by the RAAF, the Australian government and Airbus will share the costs between them, and the RAAF has donated two of its five aircraft - MRTT 1 and MRTT 5 - to the programme, both of which are now at Getafe in Spain.
"All the internal flight trials [for the Boom Upgrade 3] have been done," said Caramazana, adding, "we plan to complete certification at the end of July-beginning of August. From 2017, this will be the baseline MRTT offered to our customers."
As to future upgrade plans, Caramazana said that the New Engine Option (NEO) being developed for the commercial aircraft is also being considered, but he declined to divulge further details.
Thus far, 21 of the 28 standard A330 MRTT aircraft ordered by Australia, Saudi Arabia, the United Arab Emirates (UAE) and the United Kingdom have been delivered. Australia has received five out of five, Saudi Arabia four of six, the UAE three of three, and the United Kingdom nine of 14, one of which has been handed over but retained in Getafe for A400M refuelling tests.
Singapore signed up early in 2014 as the fifth A330 MRTT customer, putting six aircraft on order, and Caramazana said that Airbus expects a deal with India, also for six aircraft, to be signed shortly.
"The Indian contract is now fully negotiated and pre-signed. It was held up by the elections, and the Airbus president has already met with the new Indian prime minister, and there is a sense of positiveness [about getting the deal finalised]," he said.
Beyond Singapore and India, Caramazana said that Airbus is now in final negotiations with Qatar, for two aircraft, and France, for nine, with an option for a further three. It is also offering the A330 MRTT to the Republic of Korea, the European Defence Agency (EDA), "and others".
As noted by Caramazana, ongoing military conversion work on the final five UK and two Saudi aircraft at the company's Getafe facility, as well as Iberian Airlines' nearby facility, means the next available slots for export customers on the conversion line will be in 2016. He added that, with the expected backlog, 2017 through to 2019 "will be really very full".
Conversion work is carried out in three identical hangars at Getafe (with Iberian Airlines adding overflow capacity in its own facilities), and usually takes around 10 months to complete.
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